BELTON — The Bell County Commissioners Court approved a $1.2 million indigent defense grant application at its Monday morning meeting. The application, which will be submitted to the Texas Indigent Defense Commission, is for funds to help fine-tune the ongoing development of the county’s indigent defense software.
Known as Fair Indigent Defense Online, the software was developed by Bell County and Plano-based Managing to Excellence Corp. from 2010 to 2012 and has become a highly-praised process management system.
The cloud-based system was written in the programming language PHP, built in MySQL and is hosted in a remote server located in a secure facility in Dallas, although it could be hosted on a county’s own server as part of an intranet, according to a 2013 report from the Indigent Defense Commission.
When it went online in 2012, the software took over the task of monitoring the county’s compliance with the Fair Defense Act and the county’s own indigent defense plan for adult felony and misdemeanor cases.
It also automated and streamlined much of the attorneys’ pay and billing cycles including the rotation lists, continuing legal education reporting and the issuing of payment vouchers.
Linda Graham, program director for Bell County’s Pretrial Services Department, said that since the software suite was made available through the Texas Conference of Urban Counties’ TechShare program, it has become a bona-fide hit.
“We have seven counties who are using FIDO,” Graham said. “The largest is Tarrant County, but Dallas County wants to get involved in 2015.”
If approved, the grant will allow Bell County to expand the system and begin automating the county’s juvenile justice process. For taxpayers, increasing the automation of, and maybe cutting the administrative costs associated with Bell County’s indigent defense program should come as good news.
Indigent defense in Bell County is big business. The number of indigent defense cases, adult and juvenile, handled by Bell County increased 68 percent from 4,928 in fiscal year 2007-2008 to 8,313 in fiscal year 2011-2012.
Over the same period, the cost of Bell County’s indigent defense program increased by 37 percent to over $3 million, the majority of which went to providing compensation for defense attorneys. In adult misdemeanor cases, a lawyer earns a $300 flat fee for a guilty plea or dismissal and $400 for each half-day in court. In adult felony cases, lawyers earn $450 for a guilty plea or a dismissal after an indictment for state jail felonies and third-degree felonies.
For low-level felony cases, they earn $70 an hour for trial while the cost jumps to $100 for second- and first-degree felonies and capital crime cases.